Life and work
Illustrated depiction of Hipparchus observing the sky from Alexandria
There is a strong tradition that Hipparchus was born in Nicaea (Greek Νίκαια), in the ancient district of Bithynia (modern-day Iznik in province Bursa), in what today is the country Turkey. The exact dates of his life are not known, but Ptolemy attributes astronomical observations to him in the period from 147–127 BC, and some of these are stated as made in Rhodes; earlier observations since 162 BC might also have been made by him. His birth date (c. 190 BC) was calculated by Delambre based on clues in his work. Hipparchus must have lived some time after 127 BC because he analyzed and published his observations from that year. Hipparchus obtained information from Alexandria as well as Babylon, but it is not known when or if he visited these places. He is believed to have died on the island of Rhodes, where he seems to have spent most of his later life.
It is not known what Hipparchus's economic means were nor how he supported his scientific activities. His appearance is likewise unknown: there are no contemporary portraits. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries coins were made in his honour in Bithynia that bear his name and show him with a globe; this supports the tradition that he was born there.
Relatively little of Hipparchus's direct work survives into modern times. Although he wrote at least fourteen books, only his commentary on the popular astronomical poem by Aratus was preserved by later copyists. Most of what is known about Hipparchus comes from Strabo's Geography and Pliny's Natural History in the 1st century; Ptolemy's 2nd-century Almagest; and additional references to him in the 4th century by Pappus and Theon of Alexandria in their commentaries on the Almagest.
Hipparchus was amongst the first to calculate a heliocentric system, but he abandoned his work because the calculations showed the orbits were not perfectly circular as believed to be mandatory by the science of the time. As an astronomer of antiquity, his influence, supported by ideas from Aristotle, held sway for nearly 2000 years, until the heliocentric model of Copernicus.
Hipparchus's only preserved work is Τῶν Ἀράτου καὶ Εὐδόξου φαινομένων ἐξήγησις ("Commentary on the Phaenomena of Eudoxus and Aratus"). This is a highly critical commentary in the form of two books on a popular poem by Aratus based on the work by Eudoxus. Hipparchus also made a list of his major works, which apparently mentioned about fourteen books, but which is only known from references by later authors. His famous star catalog was incorporated into the one by Ptolemy, and may be almost perfectly reconstructed by subtraction of two and two thirds degrees from the longitudes of Ptolemy's stars. The first trigonometric table was apparently compiled by Hipparchus, who is consequently now known as "the father of trigonometry".
Hipparchus was in the international news in 2005, when it was again proposed (as in 1898) that the data on the celestial globe of Hipparchus or in his star catalog may have been preserved in the only surviving large ancient celestial globe which depicts the constellations with moderate accuracy, the globe carried by the Farnese Atlas. There are a variety of mis-steps in the more ambitious 2005 paper, thus no specialists in the area accept its widely publicized speculation.
Lucio Russo has said that Plutarch, in his work On the Face in the Moon, was reporting some physical theories that we consider to be Newtonian and that these may have come originally from Hipparchus; he goes on to say that Newton may have been influenced by them. According to one book review, both of these claims have been rejected by other scholars.
A line in Plutarch's Table Talk states that Hipparchus counted 103049 compound propositions that can be formed from ten simple propositions. 103049 is the tenth Schröder–Hipparchus number, which counts the number of ways of adding one or more pairs of parentheses around consecutive subsequences of two or more items in any sequence of ten symbols. This has led to speculation that Hipparchus knew about enumerative combinatorics, a field of mathematics that developed independently in modern mathematics.